We are looking here at issues in Open Education Resources (OER) and how they may be overcome. I may earn a badge for this, which is fun. I run a programme that issues “badges” but have never earned one myself.
Reading some of the materials, such as a 2007 report by distinguished academics reviewing the OER movement (Atkins et al, 2007) there is a bit of a striking gap between the world the authors optimistically look forward to, and the reality we live in. OER are available, but the reality is that most courses are still designed by individual institutions, with many lecturers preparing their own notes. Clearly, there are issues that account for this gap, and we are asked to identify three.
First, I would identify the issue of quality control. In a provocative attack on OER, blogger and consultant Crispin Weston identified the key problem very simply:
He convincingly argues that the lack of any sort of market in this area means that good resources do not crowd out bad – the bad are simply left in place, generally reflecting poor and simplistic pedagogies. For an educator looking to use OER, how do they locate and identify good quality ones?
The second key issue, to my mind, is lack of funding or even much recognition for creation of OER. In his paper on models for sustainable OER, Downes (2007) seems to envisage learners producing OER in a sort of ongoing cycle, which doesn’t seem to me like a recipe for generating quality content – that takes time, expertise and hard work. Few people will be willing or able to do this for free.
A third key issue is that of common standards. Ideally, OER would be generated that could slot into any course but of course the myriad systems, cultures and conventions that we find in education at all levels makes this challenging. Even if you can track down the resources you need, will you be able to incorporate them into your course easily?
This analysis tallies up with a striking observation about the whole open-source movement made by Lanier (2011), in many ways a digital idealist, who pointed out that the most creative developments in modern technology, such as Google, Adobe Flash and the iPhone, came out of very closed, proprietary environments:
“An honest empiricist must conclude that while the open approach has been able to create lovely, polished copies, it hasn’t been so good at creating notable originals. Even though the open-source movement has a stinging countercultural rhetoric, it has in practice been a conservative force.”
Should we honestly admit that the best educational resources come out of well-funded institutions, not volunteers freely giving their time, and that comprehensive, high quality open source content is not likely to arise spontaneously?
But this might point to a way forward. One mechanism that can claim to have solved many of the problems associated with open-source software is the Apple app store. This encourages developers to invest their time and energy in creating good apps, because there is a revenue-sharing arrangement in place that will allow them to profit from it. Users benefit from some level of approval and quality control from Apple, and a robust ratings system gives a good rough and ready idea of how good an app really is.
An app store equivalent for education? A mechanism which encourages educators to generate good content, working to a set of defined standards. Institutions pay to licence the content and the originator gets a share. Who would run this? Would it be accepted? I don’t know. But I believe it is worth thinking about.
Atkins, D., Brown, J.S. & Hammond, L. (2007) A Review of the Open Educational Resources (OER) Movement: Achievements, Challenges, and New Opportunities, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation [online]. Available at http://www.hewlett.org/uploads/files/ReviewoftheOERMovement.pdf (accessed 25 March 2013).
Downes, S. (2007) ‘Models for Sustainable Open Educational Resources’, Interdisciplinary Journal of Knowledge and Learning Objects, volume 3 [online]. Available at http://ijello.org/Volume3/IJKLOv3p029-044Downes.pdf (accessed 25 March 2013).
Lanier, J. (2011) You are not a gadget, London, Penguin.
Weston, C. (2012) ‘MOOCs and other ed-tech bubbles’, Ed Tech Now, 29 December [online]. Available at http://edtechnow.net/2012/12/29/moocs-and-other-ed-tech-bubbles/ (accessed 25 March 2013).